Photos by Milan Loiacono
Standing behind the bar in the sun-drenched space of his newly-opened restaurant is Nicolas Fanucci, methodically daubing a bread roll with butter before carefully placing it on a sizzling-hot pan. He is making what is arguably the restaurant’s most celebrated dish thus far: lobster rolls.
Beside him is his wife, Fazilet, dressed in an apron, punctiliously preparing salads and assembling plates, making sure each one is perfect for dispatch with what can only be described as motherly care. Behind the register is their son Lucas, exhibiting a cheery disposition, ready to take customers’ orders.
The Fanuccis are the family behind the new restaurant on the block: Nicolas Eatery. Nicolas Fanuccis’ former food truck restaurant has ceased to be an eatery-on-wheels and has officially begun serving food in a permanent space located in the Malibu Sands Center. The much-anticipated restaurant opened Sept. 7 and offers a fresh, organic, uncomplicated fare.
Nicolas Eatery is not the first restaurant in California to offer healthy, organic food. It would be nearly iniquitous, however, to file it under the “Just Another Follower of the LA Health Craze” category. Fanucci’s restaurant does not follow a trend but rather the fundamentally human tradition of cooking together at home.
“We designed it, and we made it based on what we do at home,” Fanucci said. “Everybody is around the kitchen when we cook [at home], and the food here is really what [our family] makes.”
The open kitchen was intentionally designed to give this feeling of homeyness, Fanucci said.
The bright space, reminiscent of easy and happy summer days, provides for the perfect setting in which to enjoy the simple yet meticulously crafted dishes. Both the physical space and the tastefully simple fare reflect a sort of elegant-meets-casual character that seems to pair perfectly with Malibu’s vibrant personality.
The small menu features a variety of dishes including a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, roasted chicken served au jus, lobster mac and cheese, dover sole meuniere, steak au poivre, a plethora of salads and onion soup that Fanucci said follows the recipe his family makes at home.
Apparently unmissable, however, is the lobster roll, which merited a congratulatory handshake from a customer who claimed it was “the best lobster roll [she] ever had.” The roll, served on a pillowy bread roll with crisp edges, is topped with champagne sauce and asparagus, providing for the most opulent of meals for under $20.
The goat cheese salad, simple and extraordinarily fresh, was too tempting to ignore. Doused in champagne dressing and generously dusted with goat cheese, it is surprisingly filling and will leave one wanting to come back the next day — or the next meal — for more. The same applies for the impossibly crispy house-made fries, arriving in a heap of golden goodness and existing as reason alone to return.
The dishes at Nicolas Eatery stand out, not by their complexity but by the quality of each ingredient and the careful execution of every dish. Fanucci and his family attend to each of their customers like they would a long-lost family member, honoring them with the best ingredients and the warmest hospitality — and a 15% discount for Pepperdine students.
The journey to opening day, however, was all but simple. Faced with Woolsey Fire evacuations, which temporarily displaced the family from its Calabasas home, and elusive permits, Nicolas Fanucci said he saw no option but to adapt.
“Our first choice was to give up the project and do something else,” Fanucci said. “Our second [choice] was to figure out a way to survive.”
The family opted for renting a food truck to get started until the permanent space was settled. The community’s response was outstanding.
“The local people of Malibu were super supportive,” Fanucci said. “They kept coming back and helping us out with our business.”
Nicolas Fanucci prepares his celebrated lobster rolls.
Nicolas Eatery is now open, with plans to inaugurate a rooftop bar early next year.
The delightful array of plates of artful simplicity and the near-familial welcome (and, yes, the student discount) will undoubtedly have patrons coming back.
Email Maria Belen Iturralde: email@example.com